Charity Commemorates 18th Year Helping Local Families with Seriously Ill Newborns
PHOTO: Piper Claire Beejack weighed just one pound, six ounces at birth.
Michael’s Feat, a charity that provides support to local families carrying and caring for seriously ill newborns, will host their annual gala on Saturday, June 2nd, at The Sheraton Hotel in Eatontown. To commemorate their 18th anniversary, there will be a special butterfly release ceremony in honor of the premature babies they have helped over the years as well as in memory of the babies gone too soon. This year’s gala Honorary Co-Chairs are the family of Shannyn Craig, a former Michael’s Feat baby who passed away at 12 years old last fall. Her parents Michael and Michele, as well as her sisters Meghan, Erin and Katie, of Middletown, have been devoted volunteers and donors for over a decade.
The gala will also honor the family of Piper Beejack of Middletown. Piper was born on October 16, 2017 three and a half months prematurely at just 23 weeks gestational age; far ahead of a full 40-week term. She weighed just one pound, six ounces and spent 130 days in the Monmouth Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before her family was finally able to bring her home in February.
Piper’s parents Cassady and Bobby Beejack were on a tumultuous journey to try to conceive a baby that included fertility interventions, a miscarriage and a great deal of disappointments along the way. After trying for 12 years without any success, they finally had a successful IVF treatment and were able to share the joyous news with their family that they were expecting a baby girl. Just three weeks later, Cassady was suddenly in preterm labor and was told by doctors the outlook was grim, and the baby would likely not survive. From day one, Piper has defied all odds as this was just the first of many obstacles she overcame during her NICU journey including a brain bleed, blood transfusions, a congenital heart defect, an intestinal infection, and countless respiratory scares where she stopped breathing or had dangerously low oxygen levels. Piper’s mother always tried to find the silver lining during the difficult, scary and overwhelming times in the NICU.
“During Piper’s NICU stay we had many scares, but we also had many joys; like the first day she opened her eyes, the first time we got to hold her, the first time she was able to wear clothes, giving her first bottle on Christmas day, dressing her in a doll outfit to meet the Michael's Feat Santa, and when we rang in the New Year as a family for the first time and toasted with sparkling cider with the NICU staff who had become family to us,” said Cassady. “Today Piper is a chunky, happy baby girl weighing over 12 pounds who opens her eyes each day with a smile eager to start exploring the world around her. She still requires oxygen that we are slowly weaning her off, as well as medication for her premature lungs, apnea monitors, and many doctors’ visits and therapies including an upcoming heart surgery, but she is a strong baby with lots of fight and we are so happy with her progress.”
Michael's Feat was founded by Adam and Dana Puharic and named in loving memory of their newborn son, Michael Gerard Puharic, who was born on July 29, 2000 and died 83 hours later due to a chromosome disorder known as Trisomy 13. The charity is dedicated to providing comfort and easing the burden for parents carrying and caring for seriously ill newborns in Monmouth and Ocean counties. To date, Michael’s Feat has helped hundreds of families and raised over $1.5 million dollars.
Funds raised at the gala will help finance the Michael’s Feat Parent Suite at Monmouth Medical Center. Michael’s Feat has also provided and manages rooms at Centra State Medical Center and at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center. The rooms provide a home away from home where families can rest and be close to their newborn.
“Michael’s Feat played an important role from day one as Piper spent the first part of her life in an isolette they donated to the hospital that she depended on to survive,” said Cassady. “Michael’s Feat provided many simple gestures that helped to make our NICU journey a little easier by bringing in preemie outfits for Halloween, turkey sandwiches for Thanksgiving, and coffee gift cards just because. There are also the Michael's Feat family rooms that give parents a space to breath. The NICU journey is lonely and both physically and emotionally draining. Mothers quickly go from the vessel that protected their baby to a spectator on the sidelines; helpless as others try to keep their baby alive. We went into battle mode learning what we could and trying to be there for our baby without getting in the way. There is no time to let down your guard or relax in the NICU and these rooms provided a much needed safe space and place of solace.”
The black tie optional gala will include silent and tricky tray gift auctions, a premium open bar and a formal dinner as well as live entertainment and dancing. The live butterfly release has already sold out and will be an intimate ceremony to take place during cocktail hour for participating families who will collectively release nearly 200 butterflies in the hotel garden area in honor and memory of their babies.
“It is hard to believe that Michael would have been turning 18 this year and graduating from high school and even more so that we have been able to live out our mission to support other local families in his memory for all this time,” said Dana Puharic, founder of Michael’s Feat. “Butterflies have always been a meaningful symbol in my life since losing Michael and the butterfly release ceremony at that gala will be such a special way to honor his memory as well as the many other babies who have touched our hearts along the way.”
About Michael’s Feat
The Michael Gerard Puharic Memorial Fund, Inc. is a local 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing comfort and easing the burden for parents carrying and caring for seriously ill newborns.
We supply material goods and financial support. This allows families caring for an ill preemie or newborn time to focus on what is important - caring for their child.
Michael's Feat was created in named in loving memory of Michael Gerard Puharic. Michael was born on July 29, 2000 to Adam and Dana Puharic. During the pregnancy, Dana and Adam were informed that Michael would face grave health problems resulting from a chromosome disorder known as Trisomy 13. Sadly, his life lasted only 83 hours. While he was not with us long, Michael's legacy lives on and continues to inspire hope. His brave struggle and the love and caring he brought out in people remains an amazing accomplishment. This is Michael’s “feat.”
Working with liaisons at Monmouth Medical Center, Jersey Shore University Medical Center and CentraState Medical Center, Michael’s Feat connects families caring for ill infants with the services or items they need in their time of duress, such as meals and gas cards, respite for siblings staying at home and many other areas where these families need support. We also work in a liaison role with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (C.H.O.P.).